This definition from Ask.com Health’s Disease and Condition content rings true for me:
“Brain fog (also called fibro fog or cognitive dysfunction) is one of the most common complaints of people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). For many, it can be severe and can have just as big an impact on their lives as pain or fatigue. In fact, some people say brain fog is more of a disability than their physical symptoms.”
Neither my hairdresser or reflexologist rely on me to remember appointments any more, both have my phone number and send me a text the day before, gently reminding me to turn up to my appointment! (to ESCAPE S means surround yourself with the right people!)
My brain fog is generally worse when I am in pain or when I am feeling rushed or anxious. Sensory overload can also make it worse, for example I often struggle to hold a conversation or to think if the radio is on or music is playing. I feel overwhelmed and unable to function properly.
Lately my strategy for overcoming the brain fog is to plan, in advance, what I want to achieve each day by writing a list.
I have always written lists. I love lists. Shopping lists, to-do lists, books I have read lists, Christmas card lists. In fact my love of lists is one of the (many) things about me that makes my husband laugh – uproariously! I am notorious for writing shopping lists, then leaving them at home when I go shopping!
In the past leaving the list at home was not an issue. The fact that I had written the list had often embedded the items into my brain and I would do my shopping quite successfully.
Recently however I have become very reliant on my lists. My son’s hospital appointment last week was not in my to-do list so we missed it! I even forgot to pick him up from the railway station one day, something I have done twice a week for nearly a year.
Years ago I started to write a list of 5 things I needed to do the following day. This was a technique recommended by Michael Heppell in one of his books about increasing productivity. Each night, before bed, you list 5 things you want to do or achieve the following day. It works very well and I used it consistently. I gradually stopped using it when I became ill as I was too exhausted to function at the end of the day, never mind plan tomorrow.
I started to use it again a month or so ago to help me to take back some control of my days, which would otherwise drift past with me sitting on the sofa playing solitaire, or sleeping.
It took a bit of practise to make my lists balanced and manageable. One of the early ones went like this:
Walk dogs, Vacuum downstairs, Do weekly shopping, Clean bathrooms, Do the Laundry.
By the time I had walked the dogs and got the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard (never mind plug it in or switch it on!!) I was exhausted. This list left no room for pacing myself by breaking the tasks down into small chunks. NOT good practise for an FM sufferer.
Well with a bit of tweaking, and keeping pacing in mind I managed to make achievable lists, which helped me to feel better about myself and my days.
I recently came across Michele Connolly’s Blog post entitled 10 Things To Do Every Day: A Prescription For Happiness And Personal Organization on her Get Organized Wizard website.
She suggests a daily check-list of simple and achievable things that “will help you feel as though you’re hanging in there and doing okay.”
Number 1 is – make your bed!
I love this one. Even if it is just straightening the duvet and putting the pillows straight, or getting your partner to make the bed, it signals that you are up and ready to meet the day. And when you go to bed at night it is much nicer to get into a made bed – helps with good sleep hygiene too!
Number 2 – Deal with the urgent.
This is stuff like school notices and replies, bills, ordering prescriptions etc. Often quite simple things that if you put off can become big problems. My urgent today was to take my son to his appointment – the rearranged one that we’d missed last week!
Number 3 – Get some exercise.
This is so very important when managing fibromyalgia to prevent muscle wasting, maintain general fitness and improve stamina. I try to walk my dogs every day; the distance depends on how I feel and what else I have on. Today I managed a 10 minute amble to a big field that they could run around. Yesterday I managed much further. Pace yourself!
Number 4 – Have something to look forward to.
This is so important, and completely missing from my Five Things to-do list! Give yourself a daily treat. It could be your favourite TV programme, a long leisurely bath or reading your favourite magazine. The reason that I think it is so important is that it gives you permission to be kind to yourself. I always felt guilty about sitting on the sofa playing solitaire. It is my coping mechanism, my way of opting out I suppose. Now I can plan it into my day and not feel guilty. (I limit the number of games).
Something else I look forward to, without any guilt now, is sitting down to watch Blue Bloods with my youngest son when he comes in from school. An accompanying cup of tea is essential.
Number 5 – Eat vegetables!
Good nutrition through a balanced diet is essential for everyone.
Number 6 – Do something nice for someone else.
When we feel ill we feel miserable and can often become quite self-absorbed. Thinking of and doing something nice for someone else is a lovely way to inject some positive energy into our life. It doesn’t have to be onerous or time consuming. Saying thank you, paying a compliment or offering encouragement are often enough. My son is doing an assignment for his University course today. I took him a cup of tea and some chocolate earlier. I got a big smile and a hug for my trouble.
Number 7 – Achieve something productive or meaningful.
This is where I put ONE of things that would have gone on my 5 Things To-Do list. Yesterday’s was vacuum and dust the sitting room; quite a strenuous activity. Today’s productive item is to write a blog post! I am being productive now, sitting on the sofa in my clean and tidy sitting room.
Number 8 – Tidy up at night.
I am not going to lie; I am not very good at this! When you are tired the last thing you want to do is tidy up. Get everyone in the family involved in this one. Making sure that dirty cups etc are put in the kitchen makes such a difference when you come down in the morning. Ask my husband, he’s always first down in the morning!
Number 9 – Feel Grateful.
Don’t all yell at me at once! Feeling grateful can be very difficult when your limbs and muscles hurt, your head is pounding and you haven’t got the energy to lift your head off the pillow, believe me I know! However happiness research has shown that counting blessings has a big impact on our happiness. The receptionist at the hospital today went out of her way to make next week’s appointment fit in with our schedule and she smiled and chatted. We expressed our gratitude. She smiled all the more and it lifted our spirits.
Other things I focus on are my family, my friends and my dogs – my “heat therapy”, who needs a wheat-bag for their legs when they have a dog curled up next to them?
And finally Number 10 – write a list for tomorrow.
The things you need to do and to remember. Fish them out of the fog and put them onto paper for safe keeping. You may sleep better if they are not swimming around in your brain!
I really like this check-list. I like the fact that it allows me to be kind to myself and reminds me that despite how I bad I may feel I have people and things in my life for which I am very grateful. But best of all -it is a list, and I love lists! They help to fuel my belief that I am in control. Though I may be delusional!?!